Eagle County’s Beyond Lawn program is more than just ripping up turf grass

There's a fire wise component to water-efficient landscaping

Master Gardener Linn Brooks measures a lawn as part of the Beyond Lawn program. The program aims to replace residential turf grass with more water-efficient landscaping.
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Lawns are nice. But they use a lot of water, can be expensive and often don’t make sense for many of us here in the high desert. The Beyond Lawn program wants to help.

Learning about efficient watering means understanding efficient irrigation, often using catch cups for water.
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The program is a joint effort between the Eagle County Soil Conservation District, the local office of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service and the Eagle River Coalition. The idea is to help residents responsibly replace their lawns with attractive, water-wise landscaping.

Cooperative Extension will provide volunteers from the Master Gardener program to help put the right plants into the right soils. The Master Gardeners are also helping create demonstration gardens in Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum this spring.

The program will also offer turf conversion rebates to residents. Denyse Schrenker of the Cooperative Extension noted that the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has had its own turf conversion program for a while now. The Beyond Lawn program will offer similar services to residents who aren’t customers of the water and sanitation district.

Training for the Beyond Lawn program sometimes involves a good bit of math to determine yard sizes.
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To participate, residents can sign up for an evaluation through the Beyond Lawn website. Evaluations cost $100 and provide expert reports specific to a resident’s yard, including soil types and lists of plants that would work to replace turf grass in those yards.

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Schrenker said when people just rip out their turf grass, the results are often somewhat disastrous.

“We want to make sure everyone’s successful,” she said.

After some pilot work last year, Beyond Lawn is ready to go full-forward this year.  

A group of Beyond Lawn volunteers examines a home last fall for replacement of turf grass in that yard.
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Rose Sandell is the Eagle River Coalition’s Education and Outreach Coordinator. She said part of last year’s efforts included determining how to approach residents with what can be a big request.

“We’re trying to break down the scariness of it all … down to manageable pieces,” Sandell said. She said that a piece of a yard where it’s hard to keep grass growing could be a good place to start turf replacement.

Sandell added that just because someone is eliminating turf grass doesn’t mean that the yard is becoming more prone to wildfire.

“Going native doesn’t mean it’s a fire attractant,” she said. Beyond Lawn evaluations also include FireWise evaluations to ensure that a home is better protected from wildfire.

“Water-wise can mean fire wise,” Sandell said.

Allegra Waterman-Snow of the Conservation District noted that taking out turf grass can be hard for some people to internalize, especially for people who grew up in places where bluegrass grows with little effort. But, she added, attitudes are changing.

“We all know we need to reduce our water use,” she said. “What’s hard is to know what to do as a replacement.”

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In addition to replacing plants, Sandell said people who replace their lawns will be encouraged to change how they water. Evaluations will include looking at soil composition and will likely include recommendations for shorter watering cycles, and watering more often.

And, Sandell noted, not everyone should replace their lawns.

“If your dog plays on (your lawn, or your kids play on it, there’s no point getting rid of it,” Sandell said. “But if all you do is mow it …”

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